John McGrath

John McGrath: Fultz finished with Huskies? For his sake, I hope so

jmcgrath@thenewstribune.com

Washington guard Markelle Fultz looks for a pass from a teammate as they warm up before facing Colorado this past Thursday. Fultz, projected as a top pick in this year's NBA draft, is sitting out the game.
Washington guard Markelle Fultz looks for a pass from a teammate as they warm up before facing Colorado this past Thursday. Fultz, projected as a top pick in this year's NBA draft, is sitting out the game. The Associated Press

Has Markelle Fultz played his last game at the University of Washington?

I hope so. I hope never to see him again in a Huskies uniform.

This is not meant as a don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out parting shot. Fultz enrolled at Washington with the intent of playing college basketball for one season, and one season only.

Once upon a time, I might have been critical of a “student-athlete’s” disregard for a free education. Once upon a time was years ago. When Fultz announces he’s jumping to the NBA, ready or not, I will wish him success.

The guard came to Montlake as the most hyped high-school recruit in the UW history, and he has delivered in every way except the really important one: He was unable to make his team better.

With five conference games remaining in a season that began poorly and has devolved into a farce, the Huskies are virtual locks to finish with 20 defeats. The 85-61 drubbing they suffered at Utah,this past Saturday, was notable only because Fultz didn’t suit up.

For the second time in two games, the projected No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NBA draft sat out with a sore knee. Hmmn. It sounds suspicious, but coach Lorenzo Romar assured reporters Fultz was not feigning an injury.

“If it was his decision,” Romar said, “he’d be out there playing.”

It would have been an unwise decision, for Fultz is a few months away from signing the lucky-for-life contract awaiting No. 1 overall draft picks. Last year’s No. 1 overall, LSU’s Ben Simmons, had $12,072,000 guaranteed to him over two seasons.

There’s $12 million at stake. In what world does it make sense to put that kind of jackpot at risk on behalf of a team skidding toward 20 defeats?

When Stanford football star Christian McCaffrey declined to play in the 2016 Sun Bowl — a postseason exhibition that meant nothing to anybody without a severe gambling addiction — it posed a question: Did McCaffrey, bound for the NFL and wary of sustaining an injury, open that can of worms enticing other pro-sports prospects to renounce participation in inconsequential college games?

Of course he did, and though I’m an old-school type who understands the take-pride-in-the-team, fight-til-the-very-end side of the debate, I also understand McCaffrey’s logic.

If he tears a knee in Stanford’s 25-23 Sun Bowl victory over North Carolina (full disclosure: I had to search the internet for that), a potential 10-year NFL career turns into 60 years of “I coulda been a contender.”

It’s likely McCaffrey would have walked off the field with his body intact, but you never know. Take, for instance, Simmons, who has yet to provide the Philadelphia 76ers one cent in return for their $12-million investment.

Simmons appeared to roll an ankle during the Sixers final training-camp workout in September. The rolled ankle was diagnosed as a broken bone in his foot. Simmons figures to make his NBA debut next month, but the season is down the drain, done in an instant.

Here’s where it gets complicated for Fultz. If his coach keeps him on the bench for a third consecutive game, this Thursday, it suggests the minor knee tweak isn’t so minor.

Fultz doesn’t need my advice, but what the heck, I’ll give some anyway: Call it quits on the college career. Your team is going nowhere, and you are going somewhere, and no reasonable NBA general manager will regard sitting out the last few games of a doomed season as a character flaw.

Fultz was a one-and-done freshman from Day One. Many of us hoped, and some of us believed, that his spectacular talent would serve as a jump start for Romar’s dead-battery program.

It didn’t happen, so move on.

For Markelle Fultz, moving on should mean sitting out. I hate that I think that way, but there’s $12 million on one table, and five meaningless games on the other.

What would you do?

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